Participants in the international water conference on Tuesday highlighted the crucial role of water in the lives of individuals and the nation and warned of the impending shortage of water as a natural resource if steps were not taken on a war footing to stave it off.
Sponsored by the Hisaar Foundation, the two-day conference that opened at a local hotel on Tuesday morning was of the view that Pakistan direly needed a water policy which, for the present, was lacking and felt that it could cost the nation dearly if steps were not taken right away to come to grips with the situation.
The event’s chief guest, Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair, differed with some of the preceding speakers in that the impending water crisis was the biggest challenge to Pakistan, saying that in his opinion, the biggest challenge was terrorism and the energy issues.
However, he said, the government fully recognised the water problem, adding that now the government had a full-fledged water ministry. He said that lots of Pakistan’s water issues stemmed from the friction-riddled ties with India and felt that there must be rapprochement at the earliest, for which he said India had to adopt a practical approach.
He said the relations between the two countries became very cordial during the Musharraf era and many of the nibbling problems came pretty close to being solved, but then things took a different turn again.
He talked of the Greater Karachi Bulk Water Supply Scheme, commonly known as the K-IV project, which he said was proceeding apace and would be functional by next year. The opening speaker, Hisaar Foundation Chairperson Zohair Ashir, said Pakistan badly needed a definite foreign policy. He was hopeful of public-private partnerships. This, he said, was a good beginning to the strategy to come to grips with an impending crisis and a positive beginning to the tradition of consultation.
He regretted that the water issue had fallen victim to the provincial and nationalistic aspects. He also lamented the apparent apathy of the federal government towards the issue and corroborated his statement by pointing to the fact that none of the federal government officials invited to the conference had turned up.
He, however, lauded the fact that the foundation’s Universities for Water Network was continuing to grow and that think tanks were having profound changes on ground realities. He called for close cooperation with the media and activism of citizens, and stressed that people of the country were really supportive if there was honesty of purpose.
Rudolph Cleveringa of the Global Water Partnership said Pakistan was fast running out of water and should act before it is too late. He stressed the importance of a vision for a water-scarce world.
Good management policies in this regard, he said, were a prerequisite to private sector investment. He suggested greater engagement with banks, as “we need money”. He stressed the role of literacy in management in that it would bring about a more judicious use of water.
Ghias Khan of the Engro Corporation said water in Pakistan was becoming crucially scarce, blaming poor management and lack of proper advice for it. “Climate change will affect the private sector too.”
He listed three risks to the private sector: there would be no water for farmers, flooding would disrupt crops and displace people and lack of water would affect production.
He regretted that there was no pricing mechanism. Besides, he said, there was total lack of accountability. He said that another disadvantage was the restrictions on water entitlement. “The government should focus on regulation and sustainable financing of water, as also sustainable pricing.”
Perhaps the most enlightening and gripping lecture was that of David Grey from the UK’s University of Oxford. He said that permanent peace between Pakistan and India was central to the solution of water issues between the two countries and the South Asia region at large.
He started off with human speciation, saying that Homo sapiens, the present-day human beings, evolved around 70,000 years ago in Africa, adding that the reason for this was the highly varying climatic and geographical conditions on the continent which in turn made the water pattern extremely complicated.
In northern Europe, he said, Homo sapiens evolved 40,000 years ago. He said that 97.5 per cent of the earth was ocean and only 2.5 percent dry land.
Talking about ancient civilisations, he pointed out the Nile River Basin and the Indus Basin, saying that the main reason for the existence of these advanced civilisations was the fact that they were on the banks of rivers.
He cited some of the water security challenges. In this context, he mentioned figures for India as 1 billion malnourished; irrigated yields in Pakistan and India were just 30 per cent of good performance; monsoon floods, and in this context he cited the 2007 monsoon that saw 4,300 dead and 70 square kilometres devastated in 260 districts; and drought risks.
In Balochistan, he said, two months ago a daytime temperature of 53.4 degrees centigrade was recorded, perhaps the highest ever reported on the planet. “The global spillover poses risks to stability in that it distorts urban pricing, food shortages and social unrest.”
The Syria drought, he said, displaced thousands and caused political and social unrest. Referring to the Kishanganga and Baglihar disputes between Pakistan and India, he said the two countries needed to be extended much beyond just the rivers.